Don’t Buy a Bigger Hat Rack – Delegate!

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Running a small business requires wearing many hats—often, too many hats.  You do it all, from marketer, sales person, public relations, product specialist, fundraiser to bookkeeper, HR department, receptionist and janitor. 
Don’t buy a bigger hat rack – delegate.

Delegating is one of the biggest challenges facing a small business operator.  All of the jobs listed above are critical to supporting the main mission of the company.  Some jobs, like designing Web pages or creating advertising material, were not what you originally thought you would be doing.  These additional jobs seem to grow exponentially with no relief in sight.

Try these four steps to start delegating:
• First, take the time to make a list of things you should not be doing. 
• Second, document what you know.  Business owners have so much knowledge and experience housed in their heads, trying to get it on paper is challenging. 
• Third, align the skills with the tasks to be accomplished. 
• Then train, monitor and review. 

 
Control.  Remember that as the owner you always have the final say.  Once you remember this, it becomes easier to release control to others.  Learning how to monitor and manage others is a skill, requiring patience and kindness.  Smothering and hovering are not managing behaviors.

 
Cost.  The initial cost of delegating can be high.  Just the thought of trying to document and process flow key functions can be overwhelming.   Also, hiring inexperienced employees is daunting, but ultimately the long-term benefits will come. 

I recall a training period in which I thought my new employees were never going to learn the many new tasks and assignments I tried to teach.  I learned to create some cushion for making mistakes.  Employees seemed to learn better from their mistakes than from my telling them “how it should be done.”

Hazards.  There are hazards when you think you can do everything.  You run the risk of missing deadlines, suffering from burnout, and limiting growth potential.  You just become stretched too thin and finally realize that you can’t do it all.  When you operate your business as though you can do everything, you cannot truly evaluate and measure your own inadequacy or lack of talent.

I worked in a small firm in which the owners all had several college degrees,  many of them, accounting degrees; however, their accounting skills were not current.  These owners were wise enough to recognize that their knowledge and skill set in accounting were inadequate, so they hired an experienced CFO.   Our newly hired CFO set up a new accounting system and had our company on a financially sound track—and our bookkeepers less frustrated.

 
Another example is when we tried to tackle certain elements of advertising.  Although advertising was unfamiliar to us, we thought we could do anything and everything.   We did not have a clue about collateral advertising materials.  Our brochures, mailer, flyers and newsletters, business cards, samplers, and Internet banners were disjointed, lacked a unified theme, and even created clutter and confusion.  We later hired a marketing and advertising executive.   She was able to brand the product and translate it into various media.  She used the message consistently, and eliminated the noise, clutter, and confusion we had originally created.

Delegating is difficult, especially for small business owners.  So try taking small steps.  Once you see that a person can handle the task, then add a little more responsibility.  Once you learn to delegate effectively, your business will become more efficient.  You might even find more time for yourself and your family.

Always wear the hat of the CEO.  This is one hat you should never give up.  You create the vision, promote the mission, and plan for the next successes.  As for the other hats, hand them off, so you can remain focused on doing what you like and really want to do.  Keep the hat that fits you best, and give the other hats to people who have the right heads for them.

James Ellis is an assistant professor in the business department of Central Oregon Community College.  He can be reached at 541-383-7718.

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